Council hopes to ban smoking in restaurants

Doug Stevens

The lines are drawn on the upcoming debate over whether or not patrons will be able to light up in the city’s restaurants. The Ames City Council, backed by local health officials and concerned residents, will address the smoking issue at the council’s next meeting Sept. 12. The Ames Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors recently voted to oppose the comprehensive ban, and many restaurants in Ames that allow smoking agree. “One of our major reasons for the decision was that there is already a tremendous amount of government regulation on businesses,” said David Maahs, director of the Ames Chamber of Commerce. “We feel that decisions like this that affect a restaurant’s policies and patrons so much should be made by the individual businesses.” Maahs said other factors, such as unpredictability, also influenced the board’s decision. “There are just too many unknowns,” Maahs said. “For some restaurants, it may have a negative impact on their business. By and large those restaurants that allow smoking in Ames are opposed to the city’s proposal.” Ames City Council members have offered to educate proponents of the smoking ban about the benefits of going smoke-free. “Public health regulations are not something that we do on a voluntary basis,” City Councilman Herman Quirmbach said. “We don’t give restaurant employees the choice of whether or not to wash their hands or owners the option to fall below the health code.” Quirmbach said the driving force behind the council’s proposal is public health – not only for restaurant patrons but also employees. He cited many scientific studies that have proven secondhand smoke to be harmful. He also pointed to studies performed in Madison, Wis., that showed business at several restaurants increased once a smoking ban was issued. “We understand the gut reaction of business to oppose new government regulations,” Quirmbach said. “But when you look at the figures and the facts, they always show that policies like this have either no effect or even a positive effect on businesses.” A recent survey of 95 restaurants in Ames, conducted by the Chamber of Commerce, found that about 65 percent of restaurants already have no-smoking policies. One of those restaurants is Hickory Park, 1404 S. Duff Ave. Manager Tracy Wheelock said the restaurant’s business has only improved since it outlawed smoking. “Probably 95 percent of the people that come in ask to sit in the non-smoking section,” she said. “When we tell them that the entire building is smoke-free, they really appreciate it.” Additionally, Wheelock said Hickory Park’s smoking clientele does not seem to mind the policy since many can wait until after their meals to light up. On the flip side, about 35 percent of Ames restaurants do allow smoking. Ron James, co-owner of the Cyclone Truck Stop and Restaurant, 1811 S. Dayton Road, said a smoking ban would have a negative affect his entire business. “If truckers can’t smoke in my restaurant they’ll go somewhere else with all of their business,” James said. Cyclone Truck Stop is one of the many Ames businesses that will have representatives attending at the council meeting.